Moore v. Schering Plough, Inc.

328 N.J. Super. 300, 746 A.2d 1 (App. Div. 2000)
  • Opinion Date: February 7, 2000

NEGLIGENCE; LANDOWNER LIABILITY—A property owner may be liable to a security guard who falls on ice even if one of the guard’s duties is to report a dangerous snow and ice condition to the owner.

The owner of a large industrial facility engaged a snow removal contractor to clear the roads and parking areas within its facility. It was not clear whether the contractor also was obligated to remove snow from the sidewalks connecting the facility’s buildings or from ramps connecting elevated sidewalks and the parking areas. The facility owner also engaged a security company as an independent contractor to patrol the property. One of the security company’s duties was to notify the facility owner when snow removal was required. During the course of making security rounds, a guard was injured by falling on a snow covered ramp. The facility owner claimed that it had no duty to protect an employee of an independent contractor from the very hazard created by the contract work. In New Jersey, this is a general exception to the rule that a landowner has “a non-delegable duty to use reasonable care to protect invitees against known or reasonably discoverable dangers.” In this case, however, the court found that the general duty to provide a reasonably safe place to work “is relative to the nature of the invited endeavor and does not entail the elimination of operational hazards which are obvious and visible to the invitee under ordinary observation and which are part of or incidental to the very work the contractor was hired to perform.” The lower court ruled that “a security guard has to take the risk of weather” and that slipping on snow or ice was a “risk of employment.” The Appellate Division did not think that this conclusion could be made as a matter of law. Instead, it concluded that under all relevant circumstances, the facility owner had a duty of reasonable care to the guard with respect to snow and ice accumulation. The determination of what constitutes relevant circumstances was remanded for consideration by a jury and might include “the extent and timing of the snowfall, the time of day or night, the nature of the efforts actually taken by the owner to maintain the premises, the practicality of cleaning up in stages or by priorities, the plaintiff’s care for his own safety including his foot wear, the minimal usage consequent on the closed ‘facility’ in contrast to a normal workweek, and any other pertinent factors.”